Circa @ Assembly @ Assembly Hall, Edinburgh

performed by
David Carberry, Darcy Grant, Chelsea McGuffin, Freyja Edney, Lachlan McAulay, Emma Serjeant, Jesse Scott, Lewis WestCirca is a simultaneous celebration of both the human body’s strength and its fragility.

The acclaimed seven-member Australian troupe combines circus skills with dance, performing without props on an empty white stage.

The audience are able to appreciate each twitch of a limb, each tremor of muscle as the performers come together in mini-duets, colliding and then pushing each other apart or flopping and twisting on the ground like fish on the deck of a boat.

There is no real connecting narrative thread as such, rather the show is a series of sometimes spectacular and sometimes intimate episodes and encounters. Physical power over another is a recurring theme. A woman is tossed in the air like a thing of balsa wood or spun like a skipping rope. In one of the show’s most wince-inducing and unexpected moments, a female performer emerges wearing cherry red spike heels and proceeds to walk across a male performer’s torso.

Slick as the production is, the huge physical effort involved in achieving these things is never disguised, never hidden; instead it has been made part of a fabric of the show. In one sequence, a woman lifts a man onto her shoulders and one can see her face twitch with exertion, her whole body tremble and shake. Later one of the female performers stands on a man’s outstretched forearm and it’s possible to see him brace himself and to grimace with the strain. The capacity for things to fail, to go wrong, is always there, simmering underneath the surface, and when one the male performers hangs suspended from the ceiling by straps, only to suddenly tumble to within centimetres of the floor, the wave of tension and release that ripples through the audience is audible. People gasp with fear and delight.

The potential for the body to betray is also explored. In one superb sequence, played out without music, a female performer contorts herself, her head between her legs and her hands crabbing and scuttling around her, seemingly independently. The architecture of the human form is inevitably brought to the fore, from the male torsos, slender yet with every muscle clearly delineated to the female thighs which, refreshingly, still jiggle, even while hoisting another human being into the air.

If anything is lacking, it’s a greater guiding connection between the different sequences, a unifying thread, and perhaps a shade more humour. But this remains a powerful piece, concerned as much with the emotions it generates in its audience as with the creation of sheer physical spectacle.

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